"I prefer to walk, to move slowly, to match wits with a whitetail deer on its terms," said Dick Hall, a 37-year-old Montgomery County hunter who started in the woods of upstate New York, around Oswego, when he was only a boy.
Why should Hall be any different from the 20-odd million deer hunters who take to the woods each autumn? For starters, Hall believes those who use guns to put venison on the table too often take the easy route. Hall is a bow-hunter, a modern-day Robin Hood.
"It was more of a challenge," he said of the switch he made seven years ago. "It's not that I object to firearms hunters. Many of my friends still do. But stalking an animal, the necessity of having to get close to a wild creature, that's what turned me on."
The ranks of hunting archers are swelling into the thousands across the country.With the patience of Job and a skin thicker than an elephant's, bow-hunters in 20th-century America have to face stinging criticism from a highly vocal anti-hunting lobby that often singles out archers as particularly cruel. Shooting an arrow into an animal, to anti-hunters, is nothing less than reversing civilization: a primeval act not fit for modern society.
"That's okay," said Hall. "Man is born to hunt. People who object to it are against us mainly out of ignorance." Then he looked off into the distance and quietly said, "They just don't know."
Pro and con arguments notwithstanding, to be a successful bow-hunter requires year-round target practice of a particular type. Long before September 14, the opening day of Maryland's archery season for deer, Hall is regularly peppering targets in his back yard in Monrovia or at a nearby public archery range.
Practice distances start with 15 yards. "I'll shoot until I can group eight arrows into a grapefruit-size area," he said. Hall then moves back to 25 yards, pointing out that most deer are shot from less than 25 years away. His practice range is increased to 30, sometimes 40 and 50 yards. Such sessions are eventually moved to a rural tree stand where Hall fires target arrows into a three-deminsional cardboard deer.
Each outing is kept up until consistent groupings become the norm, and Hall emphasizes the need to practice in surrounding as real as possible: "I try to practice three times weekly, up to one hour each time," he said. "If it doesn't feel right, i quit and take it up again the next day."
Hall not only sharpens his skill under actual forest conditions, learing to accept the shadows and optical illusions played when light and foliage meet, he also wears the same clothing he will use when the real hunt begins: "You have to become comfortable with your equipment, and that includes everything from your hat down to your trousers."
Hall becomes pensive when the subject of archery equipment is brought up. "I actually like the way archers went about it 15 years ago," he said. "Technology then was not advanced as much. Men still used long bows are Asiatic recurve bows and frequently made their own arrows."
Technology now means pulling the pulley-assisted string of something called a compound bow, a wondrous instrument of metal cables and eccentric wheels that enables a shooter to hold longer aims and deliver mightier blows with less tired muscles. Had Genghis Khan's hordes owned compound bows instead of woefully inadequate recurve models, Europeans today would be fond of horse milk and live in tents.
Not to be outdistanced by his archery pals, Hall joined in with modern developments and now owns a Jennings Shooting Star compound bow, a two-wheel model that costs more than $200. From it he releases 29 1/2-inch aluminum arrows (2219 models, he calls them, the number referring to a combination of arrow length and thickness, the drawing distance of his arm and the pull poundage of his bow). Halls Jennings bow delivers a maximum 70 pounds of release power.
I like bright, single-color turkey-feather fletching on my arrows," he said. "Feathers, unlike plastic fletching, have a tendency to correct poorly released arrows. They seem to fly better with my two-edged razorhead tips. But I also want to add that unlike other bow-hunters i don't like [mechanical] bow sights. I'm an instinctive shooter." The emphasis he placed on "instinctive" made it appear as if that were the state of the art among archers these days.
Hall's diligent practice and careful matching of equipment have paid off. In 1978 he brought home a deer from Sideling Hill, Maryland. In 1979 he repeated the feat when he got a buck not far from Clear Springs. "Of course, I've missed a few deer. One in particular. It would have been a record book buck the one that got away at Spurce Knob, West Virginia, but that's part of the game. One thing is sure, archers don't like to lose arrows. At $6 a crack, we take our time," he said.
Like all hunters, Hall has probably spent more time simply looking at deer than shooting at them. "I enjoy them immensely," he said. "But there comes a time when vension comes into play. And I like roasts and steaks as much as anyone. Who could possibly object to that?"